The Jolt: What Buckhead cityhood’s demise says about Georgia politics

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, left, and House Speaker David Ralston, right, welcome  Gov. Brian Kemp for his annual State of the State address to the Georgia Assembly on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. (Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, left, and House Speaker David Ralston, right, welcome Gov. Brian Kemp for his annual State of the State address to the Georgia Assembly on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. (Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

If there was ever a year for Buckhead cityhood legislation to pass, it seemed like the one.

An unpopular outgoing Atlanta mayor and an untested new one. Rising violent crime fueling discontent. A GOP-controlled Legislature readily willing to ignore the principle of local control. A governor with frayed ties to the capital city facing a Republican challenger who quickly endorsed Buckhead’s divorce.

“It was a gimme putt,” said one senior GOP insider. A mulligan won’t be so easy.

Buckhead cityhood advocates had just about everything working in their favor. Everything, that is, except for a leader who kept alienating even Buckhead’s most dedicated supporters.

Instead of an end-of-legislative-session vote on whether to let Atlanta split into two municipalities, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston buried the bill last week.

As Duncan outlined in an interview, he had yet to hear any real plans to combat crime, finance government or operate public schools from the cityhood advocates. Just as important, he called cityhood chief Bill White’s actions “disgusting.”

White, the face of the movement, had stirred controversy every step of the way, from amplifying racist posts about Atlanta’s crime to trying to use Trump-like language to galvanize support.

The measure’s death – at least for this year – leaves us with a few takeaways.

  1. Gov. Brian Kemp can breathe a sigh of relief. Though the Republican never endorsed the idea, he would have undoubtedly signed it if it reached his desk, in part to deprive former U.S. Sen. David Perdue of the wedge issue.
  2. Geoff Duncan still has clout. Though a lame-duck lieutenant governor, he’s kept the GOP caucus intact on key votes, and Republican senators mostly unified behind his decision to bottle up Buckhead legislation. Just as telling, Ralston followed his lead on cityhood, saying he had no other choice after Duncan announced his stance.
  3. Cityhood advocates might not get a second chance. Democrat Stacey Abrams is a staunch opponent of Buckhead’s secession. Even if Kemp or Perdue wins in November, new Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens has forged important inroads in the Capitol.
  4. Bill White’s future is in question. One Republican after another griped that White “shot himself in the foot” with his bombastic rhetoric and social media posts, including spreading a rumor about the late head of the MARTA transit agency. Some believe the damage he’s inflicted on himself can’t be reversed.

State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, an influential Democrat in cityhood debates, wrote on Facebook that if the Buckhead city leaders intend to try again in the future, they’ll need to fire White first.

But it doesn’t seem White and the group have gotten the memo. With news that cityhood is essentially dead for the session, they sent a last blast to supporters urging them to call Kemp, Ralston, and state Sen. Butch Miller Monday to protest. “Buckhead City is NEVER going away,” they wrote.



  • 7:00 a.m.: Bad news, night owls-- Senate Appropriations subcommittees open the day with budget hearings;
  • 10:00 a.m.: The Senate gavels in;
  • 1:00 p.m.: The House convenes.


Experts, voters say Georgia's governor race will be intense

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Extremely strange bedfellows: Both Stacey Abrams and David Perdue are uniting against attempts by Gov. Brian Kemp’s allies to ban political challengers from raising cash during the legislative session.

Abrams’ campaign used the proposed GOP legislation on the issue to energize donors over the weekend, calling it a “real threat” in a memo to supporters. Perdue called it a brazen “Incumbent Protection Act.”

Look for more later this morning when Abrams’ campaign holds a press conference slamming the proposal.


Keep an eye on the usually below-the-radar Dr. Richard Woods, the state schools superintendent, who now finds himself at the center of the most controversial area of politics heading into 2022-- educational content in schools.

Woods visited three schools in Columbia County last week, according to the Augusta Chronicle. That’s the same county where a middle school mom has been lobbying the school board to have specific books taken out of middle and elementary school libraries.

“We want to make sure what is presented to them is decent, we want to make sure it’s appropriate for whatever age they are and that it benefits their academic progress and that’s what we’re ultimately about,” Woods said of books.

The schools chief also commented on Critical Race Theory, saying he’s confident the state’s materials do not include the graduate-level framework on the effects of racism in society.

“We’ve looked at our standards and making sure we don’t have any type of divisive content out there,” he said. “We also look at the training at the Department of Education … Any teacher can follow what’s in our standards and should have no problems going on in your classroom.”


POSTED: U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock’s message to Georgia voters in Washington and on the campaign trail can be summed up like this: I see your struggles, and I’m working to make things better.

Over the weekend, Tia Mitchell wrote about how his first year in office shaped his reelection approach and the Republican strategy to tie him to President Joe Biden and his sagging approval rating.


Herschel Walker is best positioned at the moment to be Raphael Warnock’s GOP challenger.

But the questions about Walker’s background are piling up. The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer leads today with a story that Walker and his business partner had personally guaranteed two loans to a Texas bank in 2018 and 2019 for a pizza business Walker invested in.

But as of today $625,000 in loans remain unpaid and the bank has sued Walker, who is now the subject of liens in Fulton County and Johnson County superior courts.


Congresswoman Nikema Williams was among 14 Black women in the U.S. House, all of them Democrats, who signed onto a letter to President Joe Biden encouraging him to keep his promise to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court.

“The nomination of a Black woman is not mere symbolism; it is an essential step for our country’s promise of justice for all,” they wrote.

Georgia’s U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff was among the Judiciary Committee members who met with Biden at the White House last week to discuss the nomination process. Biden indicated that had begun focusing on four candidates, whom he hasn’t named, and interviews could begin soon.


U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene now has a fourth GOP challenger joining her in the May primary -- Rydal resident James Haygood.

Haygood announced his run last week on Facebook, although his paperwork has yet to show up on the Federal Election Commission website.

Haygood says he’s a railroad foreman running “to provide an alternative to people who find themselves frustrated with our current Congresswoman.” He says he would focus on solving the supply chain issues dogging the country and a host of other conservative-friendly issues.


Mark your Cobb County calendars for April 5, for the special election to replace former GOP state Rep. Matt Dollar in his old East Cobb district.

For anyone confused about how filling the vacancy will work, the Marietta Daily Journal has you covered:

The victor will serve in the seat for the remainder of 2022. Another election will be held in November, with a May primary, to fill the seat for the 2023-24 term along the new district boundaries taking effect next year.

Democrat Dustin McCormick has announced he will run in both races; state Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-east Cobb, plans to run in the November race also, as she was drawn into the new District 45.

- Marietta Daily Journal


Shirley Sherrod, the Georgia native who once served as a U.S. Department of Agriculture official before being fired over a racially motivated controversy, has been appointed to a new federal commission that will address the department’s history of discrimination against farmers of color.

The 15-member USDA Equity Commission has been tasked with creating policies and programs to address equity issues in agriculture and economic development in rural communities.

U.S. Rep. David Scott, the Atlanta Democrat who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, welcomed the commission’s creation.

“As the first African-American chairman of our House Agriculture Committee, shining a light on the experience of being a marginalized farmer in America and ensuring equitable treatment by the Department of Agriculture has been a priority under my leadership,” he said in a statement. “There are countless farmers whose contributions to our industry have not been fully realized because of discrimination by those at USDA.”


Very sad news: Valerie Boyd, the longtime arts editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who became the Charlayne Hunter-Gault Professor of Journalism at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism, has died.

Boyd was the author of “Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurton.” In 2017, former Gov. Nathan Deal awarded Boyd the Governor’s Award for Arts and Humanities.

Hunter-Gault wrote on Twitter that she was “devastated” at the news of Boyd’s passing and called her a “friend, colleague and scholar par excellence.” Our deepest condolences to Boyd’s many family, friends and former colleagues.


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